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Bush adviser: Iraq policy more than 'stay the course'

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- As the U.S. death toll in Iraq reached 86, the highest monthly total this year, a senior White House adviser Monday rejected suggestions that U.S. troops were exacerbating problems in Iraq and that a timetable should be set to withdraw forces from the war-torn nation.

"Just because we have taken some serious sacrifices this month and that the fighting has been remarkably violent, that doesn't make it any less necessary for us to be there and make sure we prevail," Bush adviser Dan Bartlett told CNN.

"Most people would argue we are part of the solution in Iraq, not part of the problem," Bartlett said. "Our commanders are there on the ground, seeing the situation play out hour by hour, are constantly evaluating that very question. Where is the best and most appropriate use of forces?" (Watch how the White House is reviewing its policy in Iraq -- 2:06 Video)

Bartlett made his rounds Monday morning among several news outlets after a report by The New York Times said diplomats and military commanders were setting timetables for disarming militias and other goals.

Bartlett said the newspaper report was "overwritten" because it suggested the timetable was part of a new strategy. He conceded it had been a "difficult month" in Iraq, but insisted "it doesn't make it any less necessary that we prevail."

"[The Iraqis] want to have this benchmark and milestone process as much as we do. They want to take over control as quickly as possible," he said. "The president has constantly said it's going to be up to the commanders on the ground to give him advice about what our troop strength should be. It's important that we do it in a way that doesn't prematurely pull our troops out before we're able to succeed."

Bartlett said the problems in Iraq require not only a military solution, but solutions from a "political standpoint" as well.

Several facets of the Iraq war require benchmarks, including improving the capabilities of Iraqi police and security forces, and resolving the country's oil and reconciliation issues, Bartlett said.

In an interview with ABC News, Bartlett expanded on how to prod the Iraqi government into meeting the benchmarks and milestones, saying the U.S. is looking to "incentivize them to take control and give command-and-control operations exclusively to the Iraqi security forces."

"We do have a lot of reconstruction funds, for example," Bartlett said. "And if you have a solid political structure in place in a secure climate, then that way you can have money go into there."

In another interview with CBS's "Early Show," Bartlett dismissed assertions that the Bush administration's strategy for Iraq is to "stay the course."

"It's never been a stay-the-course strategy," Bartlett said. "Strategically, we think it's very important that we stay in Iraq and we win in Iraq. And if we were to cut and run and go and leave that country too early it would be a disaster for American policy."

"But what we aren't doing is sitting there with our heads in the sand. We're completely changing and making tactical changes on a week-by-week basis as we respond to the enemy's reactions to our strategies," the presidential adviser said. (Watch why Bush doesn't think leaving Iraq is a viable strategy -- 1:52 Video)

Throughout the war, the Bush administration has said it's critical to "stay the course" in Iraq.

Bush used the phrase August 30, saying in a speech in Utah, "If we leave the streets of Baghdad before the job is done, we will have to face the terrorists in our own cities. We will stay the course, we will help this young Iraqi democracy succeed, and victory in Iraq will be a major ideological triumph in the struggle of the 21st century."

White House spokesman Tony Snow made similar remarks to reporters in August: "You also cannot be a president in a wartime and not realize that you've got to stay the course."

However, in a speech last year, Bush said the phrase could represent and misrepresent his thinking on Iraq.

"Some critics continue to assert that we have no plan in Iraq except to stay the course," Bush said in November 2005.

"If by stay the course, they mean we will not allow the terrorists to break our will, they are right. If by stay the course, they mean we will not permit al Qaeda to turn Iraq into what Afghanistan was under the Taliban -- a safe haven for terrorism and a launching pad for attacks on America -- they are right, as well," the president said. "If by stay the course, they mean that we're not learning from our experiences, or adjusting our tactics to meet the challenges on the ground, then they're flat wrong."

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Bush adviser Dan Bartlett on Iraq policy: "It's never been a stay-the-course strategy."

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